Updated at 1:06 p.m. Wednesday
Officials in west suburban Melrose Park were considering legal action Wednesday after a health-care company appeared to be defying a judge’s order to maintain operations at Westlake Hospital.
On Tuesday, a Cook County judge granted a request from Melrose Park for a temporary restraining order to prevent Los Angeles-based Pipeline Health from shutting down Westlake, which Pipeline bought in January. The ruling means Pipeline must keep the hospital staffed and functioning for now.
But on Wednesday, doctors and nurses at Westlake said Pipeline had been moving surgery equipment out of the hospital since Tuesday night, no new patients were being admitted and nurses were being told they would be laid off. A doctor in the emergency room said she was told to refer patients to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, another hospital owned by Pipeline.
“I think this is completely outrageous. They are not following the court order,” said Westlake Dr. Ray McDonald.
A Melrose Park spokesman said village attorneys were working on a contempt of court motion against Pipeline.
When a WBEZ reporter gained entry to Westlake and asked the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Joseph Ottolino what was happening, Ottolino asked the reporter to leave.
A spokeswoman for Pipeline released a statement saying, “We are following the judge’s order and reviewing our legal options.”
Pipeline plans to go before Illinois regulators to seek to close the hospital at the end of the month.
On Tuesday morning, Pipeline announced it was temporarily suspending services at the hospital effective immediately. Pipeline released a statement saying it was taking the action “due to concerns about its ability to continue maintaining a safe environment for patient care due primarily to declining staff rates.”
Patients at Westlake will be discharged “when clinically appropriate” or transferred to another health care facility, Pipeline said.
Melrose Park officials have accused Pipeline of failing to follow through on promises to maintain operations at Westlake after it bought the hospital. Last month, Melrose Park sued Pipeline when it announced plans to close Westlake in the future.
“They told not only the village, but they told community members and state representatives time and time again, they were going to keep Westlake Hospital open and invest in it,” Melrose Park spokesman Andrew Mack said Tuesday. “They have deceived the community over and over again with those lies.”
“They have been systematically disinvesting in the hospital by moving equipment out, encouraging staff to go find jobs elsewhere,” Mack added. “What they are doing is, they are dropping staffing levels and equipment levels down to a level where they are now claiming there is a crisis, and they cannot operate the hospital anymore. Well, it’s a crisis of their own making.”
Mack’s allegations were disputed Tuesday by Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce. She said it was untrue that equipment was being removed from Westlake or that workers were urged to look for other jobs.
She also said, “Pipeline’s original application for change of ownership makes no promise or commitment to keep Westlake open for any period of time.”
Pipeline said other factors influencing its decision to suspend services at Westlake included “declining inpatient stays and losses of nearly $2 million a month.” The company’s statement said Westlake is only 30 percent full with patients, and inpatient visits in 2018 “dropped to nearly 4,100, down from approximately 4,800 in the year prior.”
Westlake serves a mainly African-American and Hispanic population.
WBEZ’s Miles Bryan and Carrie Shepherd contributed.